CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAY - The Christmas Season of Christmas trees has beginnings in ancient Egypt and Rome when those people brought into their homes evergreen trees and plants to signify life in the bleakness of winter. For Christians the Christmas tree of today goes back to old German traditions of candlelit evergreen trees to signify the light of Christ in the darkness of winter, and the light against the ever present darkness of the evil.
The U.S. has adopted this Christmas tree tradition, but the significance of light versus dark, and the celebration of the birth of Christ is lost to many.
I bought my Christmas tree last week. I did not go into the mountains to experience the rugged, back to nature sense of cutting down a tree. That would be a waste of gas and create more pollution. It was purchased at a Christmas tree lot at a very large home improvement store.
This year there were uncertainties if I would get a Christmas tree. I am single man, and somehow this does not seem to be the lifestyle of a single man. But I like Christmas trees, so I thought I would get one for this year.
But the most important reason for buying a Christmas tree is that my Mom loved Christmas and Christmas trees. She died in last year, age 101. I was her primary caregiver.
I had a Christmas tree last year, but that tree was put up in the coverings and veil of my grief for her. The tree was there, but its meaning obscured by grief and caregiving recovery. The grief I somewhat anticipated, but not the caregiving recovery. Both were dark, deep and heavy.
I survived and carry on through group grieving sessions in which we shared our most inner thoughts and pains, our heavy tears, and glimpses of happy remembrances. The sessions ended, but their healing continues.
So, this year for her memory, and for me, there is again a Christmas tree standing in my home.
To decorate the tree, I go through my processes:
- Clean the tree, a blower used for the yard works fine.
- Make sure the tree stand securing holds the tree, fingers are always crossed.
- Take the tree indoors, and make sure to keep it watered.
- Plug in and check every strand of tree lights to make sure they work; hang the lights; plug them in again to make sure all light strands work. They did.
- Then it is on to hanging the ornaments.
- Hang the ropes of wooden cranberries.
- Finally, the tree topping ornament is placed atop the Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree lights were unplugged when the ornaments and wooden cranberries were hung. Why? I don’t know, but that is the process.
After the tree topping ornament was secured, the lights were plugged in. While expecting a nicely lit Christmas, to my dismay the middle strand of tree lights was out, the energy efficient bulbs dark.
After finding the dark strand of lights every single little bulb was twisted, turned and made secure in the light cup to make sure the connections were tight. Still, no lights in the middle of the tree.
My option was to dismantle the wooden cranberries, remove every ornament, remove all of the tree lights, find and discard the dark light strand, go to a store and hope to find Christmas tree lights on the shelves, buy more tree lights, return home, restring the tree lights, rehang the ornaments, restring the wooden cranberries.
This would be done with the assumption that in the year of supply chain shortages I could find Christmas tree lights in stores. I could drive around town looking for some, and this would waste my time, and waste gas in the car. The trips would contribute more carbon gasses to the angry and open maw of climate change.
I could order the lights on-line, but with Christmas around the corner I would have to pay the hefty fees for overnight shipping and still hope they arrive in time, and would even work and light the tree.
Before I did any of those thoughts swirling in my head, I decided to stop and reflect on what does a Christmas tree mean to me. Not what it means to family, not to the neighbors (who would probably care less), or what this tree means in the consumer crazed, stylistic pressure cooker of a perfect Christmas and perfect Christmas tree.
During the Christmas season we are bombarded and assaulted with ads to buy and to consume for the Christmas Holiday. These messages are for believing Christians like me, or for those participating in just the Winter festival. Our senses are attacked with finding the perfect gift, the perfect Christmas, the perfect this and that. The message is that everything must be perfect for Christmas.
When attending Mass, the word from the Catholic Church is to not become trapped in the consumerism of American Christmas. I try to follow this, but then I found there is more to this.
With my Christmas tree with lights not working I discovered another side of Christmas, that Christmas is not perfect.
The condensed Christmas story is that God sent His only Son, Jesus, to be born of a woman, Mary, and live as a boy and man in the human condition, and then die for our sins-the Easter Season.
The human condition is very messy with glorious days and terrible in bloodshed; happiness and very dark emotions; relationships good and bad; good health and illness. Life on this planet is hugely imperfect.
My Christmas tree with the not working lights in the middle, and the bare spots at the bottom, is not perfect visually. Those commercials, magazines and TV shows promoting the perfect Christmas would not accept my tree. And that is beautiful.
My imperfect Christmas tree symbolizes my very imperfect life; the darkness of my grief of the death of my mom; an overall darkness I still confront at times; the imperfections of my body and character. And this is good.
The remaining strands of working lights on my imperfect Christmas tree reflect the light in the darkness which is the Advent Season before Christmas, and Christmas itself.
Sometimes the lights are dimmed, or missing, but the lights are always there in some manner, and I embrace whatever light there is in my very imperfect Christmas tree and imperfect Christmas.
Happy Holidays, Christmas Joys and Blessings, and Best in the New Year, with all of its coming imperfections.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found at https://www.matthewhetz.com. He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)